Roy Wooley is an artist. Just like Matisse or Degas, Wooley’s masterpieces are familiar to millions of people the world over. Unlike the works of those luminaries, his pieces don’t include watercolors of a sunset on the horizon or beautiful women painted in oils. In fact, Wooley doesn’t do his work on canvas at all.
“I’ve always loved monsters,” he explains. “I was 17 years old and saw ‘American Werewolf in London’. As I watched, I came to the realization that somebody gets paid to do that.”
The “that” Wooley refers to is makeup art. Transforming an actor into a werewolf or a zombie or simply altering his appearance has been a part of movies as long as Hollywood has been around. Jimmy Stewart’s bloody lip in “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The work of a makeup artist. Oompa Loompas in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”? Makeup artists. Spock’s ears in any of the “Star Trek” films? The result of prosthetics created by, you guessed it, a makeup artist.
Makeup art is so critical to major motion pictures that in 1981, the Academy of Motion Pictures began handing out Oscars for Best Makeup. Because of this award, films like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, “The Nutty Professor” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” have all received Academy Awards. While they’re not going to be confused with “Casablanca” in terms of quality, these movies would have gone nowhere at the box office if not for makeup art.
Now Wooley, an eight-year Tucker resident, is building upon that legacy. A makeup artist for nearly a quarter-century, he didn’t catch his big break until 2012 when he made the cast of the SyFy reality show “Face Off”.
“I made the semifinals of Season Three and then finished in the top three of Season Five,” Wooley recalls. “[Three-time Oscar winner] Ve Neill was one of the judges. She’s done ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘The Hunger Games’. She said, ‘We’re shooting “Mockingjay”. Do you want to come to work?’ Ever since then, it’s taken off.”
In recent years, Wooley has worked on blockbusters like “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War”, as well as doing television work in “Sleepy Hollow” and “Constantine”. The work is exciting, especially, Wooley explains, because you never know what’s coming next.
“Being a freelancer, you’re always chasing the next job,” he says. “It’s feast or famine. When things are really going, there’s more work than you can handle. Other times there’s nothing.”
During those slow times, Wooley can fall back on his permanent job as head of the makeup department at Netherworld in Gwinnett County. Not only is he responsible for overseeing a team of 20 artists who apply makeup to actors at the seasonal haunted house, he gets to engage in his passion of creating three-dimensional characters to scare the daylights out of those who are brave enough to trek through the facility.
“We’re working 365 days a year at Netherworld,” Wooley explains. “You do it once and you’re either hooked for life or you hate it. For me, it’s fun to see someone totally terrified.”
Originally from Alabama, Wooley is able to live and work in the Tucker area because of Georgia’s thriving film industry. He says he’s noticed a shift over the years, with more and more professionals leaving Hollywood to open effects schools and special effects shops in metro Atlanta. It’s a trend, he says, that allows him to follow his passion and one he hopes will continue.
“I get to create stuff,” he says with a smile. “How many jobs can you have someone say, ‘go make stuff’? In my career, I pretty much have done everything I’ve wanted to do.”
Wooley sits back, thinks about it and adds, “A werewolf movie. I want to do a good werewolf movie one of these days.”
With film production going gangbusters across the area, it’s only a matter of time before Wooley gets to add that last piece to his artist’s portfolio.